Though the journey of a self-taught graphic designer is very unconventional, you will be surprised by just how many of them are out there. Encouraged by this and the spare time I had on my hands due to the pandemic, I started learning things that I was interested in. That is how my graphic design journey began – by taking an online course. A few passion projects later, I began to actively pursue professional experience in the industry. My journey so far as a graphic design intern at Penthara Technologies has been a ride of learning and discovering. Here are a few takeaways from my first month at the job that stood out to me:
Learn, Unlearn and Relearn
This is a sound advice from Alvin Toffler which anyone who wants to get ahead in their career would benefit from. To make work that is clear in its purpose, you first need to understand the core principles of design. Right from the first day at my internship, the company’s CEO put an extra emphasis on learning design from all possible sources – people, videos, blogs, and books. It does not matter where you are in your design journey, always be a student of the craft.
You also need to be able to loop through unlearning and relearning if you want to stay current about the happenings in the industry. I would spend a lot of time drawing grids in Adobe Illustrator using rectangles and guides. Soon, I saw a better method to do it by dividing a rectangle, the size of the artboard, into a grid from the toolbar. Finding the latter much more efficient, I had to unlearn the previous way of making grids and relearn this new method.
The one thing more important than learning is remembering. According to research, we forget about 50 percent of new information within one hour of learning it. One of the best ways in which I like to retain information is to take notes. I use OneNote to create a single, structured repository of notes about the concepts I learn. This way, whenever I forget a particular concept, I have a source to refer from instantly. Additionally, taking notes lays down a strong foundation for a better understanding of the concept.
Know the tools
Often the roadblock to creating an awesome design and bringing it alive on the artboard was my little knowledge about the tool. This could happen to anyone, as new tools are coming to the market every day. So, if you are planning to use a tool or learn a new one, make sure to know all the key operations in it. Good knowledge of tools not only helps you to decide which tool to use but also when. I found that using Canva for social media posts was much quicker and easier than Illustrator or Affinity Designer. This went a long way in increasing my productivity.
Have a 1000 Mentors
Coming from a non-design background, I did not have much exposure to people doing design except for those on social media. This is usually the case for most self-taught designers. Growing your network to include people who are doing the work that inspires you, interacting with them and seeking their guidance can speed up your learning curve. Learn from a professional, a friend or even a stranger doing a talk at an event. Anyone can be a mentor for you if they teach you something you did not know before.
Work on Your Style
As a designer you will be working on projects which call for the use of many different styles. The busier it gets working on these different styles, the easier it is to forget your own. Imitating other people’s style might get the work done for now. But in the long run, you are going to end up having no style of your own. Hence, finding a style that you identify yourself with and working on it is very important as a beginner. I currently love working on minimalistic brand and identity design. However, in my internship I work on social media posts, website illustrations, blog post creatives and much more. Each of these assignments requires me to capture the essence of the company’s identity, which is very different from my personal style. That is why I regularly work on personal projects during the weekends, to hone my own expression of design. I take this a step further by learning from the process of leading design studios in identity design sector like:
Track your time
This is the most important takeaway for me from this internship. The practice of tracking the tasks which I do in my workday and how much time I spend on each one of them has allowed me to be more mindful about what I am spending my time on. It allows me to prioritize tasks accordingly and set realistic deadlines for delivering the best work possible. Also, seeing what I have accomplished for the day before I sign out makes me feel more motivated about returning to work tomorrow. For my internship, I am using the internal timesheet system provided by the company.
If you are a freelancer, I would suggest using one of the free time-tracking apps or even a pen and paper to record the time you spend on various tasks. This simple practice can help you make better use of your time and increase your productivity.
Be open to constructive criticism
It is understandable to feel deeply about your work. You spend hours making it, doing the changes and finally the review comes in. If it is good, then you are on cloud nine. But in case it is not, which could be the case many times, it is easy to slip into a loop of self-doubt and feeling inadequate. “You are not your work.” This is a sound advice given by none other than Chris Do, an Emmy award winning designer and the founder of TheFutur. Remember, we are all work in progress. Do not get overly attached to the feedback. It will also do you good to remember that majority of the feedback given is subjective to each person reviewing it. This way when a negative review does come in, you will be able to assess it objectively and make the required changes so that the design fits its purpose.
These learnings can go a long way to not just improve the quality of your work but also the systems that complement your personal growth. Finally, I think learning design is not as difficult as it is to bring discipline into your design. As a beginner in design, it was when I did my work in a disciplined and structured manner that I saw myself truly progress, skill wise and as a person.
(Creative Graphic Designer Trainee)
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